Though his success, and failure, was in England and he died in France Oscar Wilde was very much a son of Ireland. Like his fellow ex-pat Samuel Beckett, Wilde’s early schooling was in Enniskillen at the prestigious Portora Royal School. A first honours student it was expected that he would continue his education at Trinity College Dublin – and possibly for the only time in his life he met the expectations of convention. In 1871 he headed off to Botany Bay. Botany Bay? Hold on a minute!, says faithful reader; you said he was going to school in Dublin? Botany Bay isn’t in Dublin it’s in Australia! Well done faithful reader, well done. And you are correct: THAT Botany Bay is but this one isn’t. And it has nothing to do with the Antipodes and though its most famous resident (the one in question in fact) was to be imprisoned, little to do with convicts. It appears that the residence square at Trinity was named for the herb garden that once occupied the area which now houses a tennis court. And it was in this square that Wilde took up quarters with his brother Willie during his student years – at number 18 Botany Bay.
However a more fanciful explanation of the name and Wilde’s time there was provided by our charming scholar guide Robert on our recent tour of the glorious campus. According to his version the square was so named because it was as far away from the Masters’ chambers and the eagle eye of the proctors as its namesake in the Antipodes. As Robert would have it Botany Bay was a place where noise and riotous carryings-on were less likely to disturb those more dedicated to academia than bacchanalia. Given Wilde’s companions, his membership in the University Philosophical Society, his work with his tutor on a book on Greek society and his academic record – ending in a scholarship at Magdelan College, Oxford – it would seem he dedicated little time to bad behaviour or sophomoric high jinks.
Given that the Wildes had a home in Merrion Square it is little wonder that a statue as colourful as the man himself has been placed in a corner of the park on the Square facing his former home. Erected in 1997 it was commissioned by the Guinness Ireland Group and is the work of English artist Danny Osborne, who resides and works in Iqaluit and Cork.. Rather than the traditional bronze Osborne created the piece of several types of semi-precious stone: Wilde’s smoking jacket is made from nephrite jade, sourced in Canada. The collar is carved from thulite, a rare stone from central Norway. The trousers are of larvikite, another stone from Norway, and the shoes from black granite from India. The head and hands are sculpted from Guatemalan jade. The whole sits on a 35-tonne boulder of white quartz from the Wicklow mountains.
The flamboyance of the central figure makes it easy to overlook the two other components of the monument. Flanking the “semi-recumbent” figure of the 40 year-old Oscar are two stone pillars topped with bronze statues: one of Wilde’s pregnant wife Constance and the other the torso of Dionysus. The pillars inscribed with quotations from Wilde in the handwriting of famous Irish personalities, and topped with bronze statues.
In this video sculptor Osborne talks about the monument and its explains it’s creation and the intended meaning.
And being Dublin the statue was quickly given not one but several nicknames: The Queer with the Leer, The Fag on the Crag and The Cock on the Rock. A left click on the lounging Wilde below will take you to a close up of the expression on his face. Though it could be considered a leer, Osborne meant it to show the two sides of the writer’s personality.
But Dublin is not the only place in Ireland where Wilde is commemorated. In 2004 the Estonian city of Tartu gifted Galway with a copy of a bronze by Tiiu Kirsipuu. It sits at the top of the city’s high street near Eyre Square and rather whimsically recreates (?) a conversation in 1892 that never took place between Wilde and Estonian author Eduard Wilde (Vilde). Though contemporaries the two men never did meet except here on William Street in Galway and just outside the Wilde Irish Pub in Tartu.
The plaques at the writers’ feet bear the following quotes*:
*A left click with enlarge the quotations for ease of reading.